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The environment desk at Aspen Public Radio covers issues in the Roaring Fork Valley and throughout the state of Colorado including water use and quality, impact of recreation, population growth and oil and gas development. APR’s Environment Reporter is Elizabeth Stewart-Severy.

Environmental art project heightens awareness on local climate change impacts

Courtesy of Aspen CORE

A local environmental nonprofit and the City of Aspen have been taking steps toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Artist Sonja Hinrichsen has been bringing attention to the issue with snowshoers in the valley through an environmental art project.


Hinrichsen’s vision for snow drawings began on a golf course near Anderson Ranch Arts Center, where she was in residence almost a decade ago.

“At that point it was just me playing around with snowshoes trying to make these patterns and photograph them, and I thought that was quite interesting,” she said. “Especially with the light change, I got really dark lines and really white lines depending where the sun and the camera was and the relationship between the two.”


Hinrichsen kept returning to the project, which later inspired her to share it with communities. She’s since left her mark on the mostly frozen lakes and rivers of Colorado, the fields of upstate New York, the clearings of Vermont and the meadows within the French Alps.


“But I have to say, one place I really, really love to do these pieces is [in] the Colorado Rockies,” said Hinrichsen. “Because these pieces basically are embedded in the landscape, and the landscape becomes part of the artwork.”


Hinrichsen has been leading volunteers in hours of exercise to make art. At one impromptu snow drawing event last month at McLain Flats, snow was hard to come by. Hinrichsen said that weather unpredictability is the recurring obstacle she faces most with this project.


“I discuss this with the venues,” she explained. “I ask them, ‘What are your winters like,’ and I always get the same answer, ‘Well, usually it used to always be cold from early December until March, but now we never know.’ So I just have to live with that.”


Lara Whitley, the marketing and community engagement manager for CORE, has lived in the valley for nearly two decades. She said she knew there would be variables when determining logistics for snow drawings last month.


“That included snow pack, that included weather, that even included elk because we're trying to find an untrammeled meadow of snow to work in,” said Whitley. “We chose five, narrowed it down to five high elevations locations, all of them above 8,000 feet. In the last week, four out of five melted out.”


Tatyana Stevens runs a local blog on environmental sustainability. Stevens is with the other volunteers who are stomping their feet to create a big handprint in the snow. She describes the current climate conditions for this project as “thin.”


“The snow is the canvas,” Stevens elaborates. “So even if the snow, like right now the dirt is poking through, it says a lot about the conditions and how important it is with the climate to be consistent versus variable. Without the snow, this type of art isn’t possible.”


But she’s optimistic about the outcome of this piece of art.


“This will be a beautiful piece and even more profound with the dirt coming up through,” said Stevens.


Whitley said that snow drawing is a different way of starting conversations about climate and a different way of taking action. Through optimism and creativity, Whitley imagined that art will inspire the community to take bulk action on environmental preservation – an artform, in and of itself.


"With each snowshoe step that individuals, community participants take, they will create a collective impression,” she said. “And what we're trying to do to get people to save energy is to take individual actions to create a collective impact.”


Snow drawings with Hinrichsen is the first of many events put on by CORE and the City of Aspen. This week, the two groups will officially launch The High 5 Project, a yearlong public awareness campaign that celebrates the elevations of five communities in the valley.


“It also stands for take five actions at a time, and then it stands for the celebratory hand slap that we all think of, because ultimately we are all in this together,” said Whitley.


The end goal is to reduce energy consumption in the valley, which will then reduce carbon emissions.


“Some people say that individual action won't get it done, but what I like to think is that we won't get it done without individual action,” she summarized.


The High 5 is all about remaining positive in the wake of climate change. But first, it’s about giving people a positive experience with nature. To officially launch the project, The High 5 will debut a film on snow drawings in Colorado and an energy confessional mobile art installation.

For more information, click here.